A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. The Education of Henry Adams
Teaching is a subtle and often under-appreciated art.
The finest teachers know how to suggest, leading students to learning and impressing them with its wonder. Their styles vary, from strict to mellow, and the substance behind that style may not be appreciated until the classroom fades into chalk-dusty memory.
Since a teacher's influence is best realized in retrospect, we asked some achievers to recall their most memorable or inspiring teacher in this final flicker of summer vacation:
Matina Horner, psychologist, president Radcliffe College:
"My high-school chemistry teacher Ann Kelley was an extraordinary woman who shaped the direction of my life. She approached me in particular, but basically all of us at Girls Latin School (Boston, Mass.) very seriously in teaching math and science.
"She captured our curiosity by linking our studies with important and, as yet, unanswered questions. She'd say something like, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to know why the tongue heals without scar tissue?' And you got the idea that if you stuck with work that might seem terribly boring, you would be able to tackle these fascinating mysteries.
"And, very subtly, she'd bring in the lives of women who had achieved, pointing out that one was married, another was single . . . so we learned it was possible to fulfill many roles, and make our studies come to life.
"When it came time to go to college she brought Bryn Mawr to my attention and took it upon herself to talk with my parents.They were from a strong ethnic and immigrant background and weren't sure they'd want their daughter to go away to college.
"She touched me at a critical choice point in my life. Had it not been for her I probably would have gone to a local college and probably would not have had the science orientation that has been of tremendous value to me."
George Burns, comedian:
"I only went as far as fourth grade -- but I stayed there for seven or eight years. That was at P.S. 22 on the Lower East Side of New York. My teacher was Miss Hollender.
"I was not a very good pupil, so she didn't teach me much. I wasn't interested in school, but I was interested in Miss Hollender. She must have been about 22 years old and very pretty.
"At that age, my mind was on the Pee Wee Quartet. A group of us would sing in bus yards, at ferry boats, anywhere we could. I fell in love with show business and didn't concentrate much on schoolwork.
"I read somewhere that Caruso ate garlic. Since I wanted to be a great singer, I used to eat four cloves of it a day. When I played hooky from school they sent my mother a thank-you note.
"Once in a while Miss Hollender let me clean the blackboard, and I'd bring home the chalk from school to prove to my mother I was there. We were very poor, so she'd put the chalk in a pot and we'd eat it.
"I taught Miss Hollender how to dance the fox trot . . . or maybe it was the Peabody. She was going to a wedding or something and needed to know how to dance. I remember she danced very close.
"My real schooling was in show business, and Gracie (the late Grace Allen) was my best teacher. I learned more from her than from eight years of Miss Hollender."
Lee Elder, professional golfer:
"My 9th-grade teacher at Manual Arts High School (in Los Angeles) was Mrs. Dunnigan. She was a very, very strict teacher who didn't mess around. She wasn't mean. She just ran a no-nonsense class, and we got an awful lot done.
"If you were not in your seat, ready to work when the bell rang, you were not admitted to her class. Then you were in for tremendous problems. You had to go to the principal and your parents had to come to school.
"That happened to me once . . . and it didn't happen again, even though I was often on the golf course and it wasn't always easy to get there on time.
"A favorite expression of hers was that she wanted to get rid of the bad apples in the class, because one bad apple spoiled the whole bunch. All of us were on the defensive to make sure we weren't the bad apples who would get put out of class."
Shirley Hufstedler, attorney and former Secretary of Education:
"The teacher who probably had as much influence on me as any was Mrs. Phillips. She taught me 8th-grade English 45 years ago at Washington Junior High School in Albequerque, New Mexico.
"Mrs. Phillips was a comfortable, round woman -- sort of pear-shaped -- with gray hair worn in a Marcel. She was forceful, but warm, and a very hard task master who drummed into all of our skulls the necessity of writing first-rate English sentences.
"We had old-fashioned spelling bees, and she insisted no one got out of her class without learning to spell the words most commonly misspelled. The only one I recall misspelling was benefit -- I used two 't's.
"She was the constant teacher -- not flashy or full of homilies and witticisms. But she had a great deal of respect for the English language and a love of her students -- which is a winning combination to this day.
"I think of her from time to time, as I do many of my teachers; she made me feel I had a talent. And I remember her any time I see the word benefit."
Rudolph Serkin, concert pianist:
"I have no most memorable teacher, you see, because I never went to school. I grew up in Austria at the time the empire fell apart. In music I had a wonderful education, but the rest I had to do for myself.
"I had many excellent music teachers, particularly (Arnold) Schoenberg. I would need hours and days to say exactly why he was such a fine teacher.Suffice it to say he was a genius."
Vincent Reed, assistant secretary, U.S. Department of Education:
"When I think back to my days in St. Louis, I recall several positive relationships with teachers that influenced my desire to go into education.
"There was Miss Lawson, my 4th-grade teacher, who had a lot of patience with me. I was a very lively child, and her whole style of dealing with me was wonderful. For instance, I was very good in math, and I used to finish my work before the others. Then I had some time on my hands, so I'd pick on the little girls in class.
"Miss Lawson would find special math materials to challenge me. I came to look forward to getting through my work to see what she had for me to learn next. She kept me busy and put me on the road to being a better-behaved, motivated student.
"Then there was Miss O'Sallon, a lady of great charisma, patience and understanding. She taught 7th grade at Gole Elementary School and you wanted to achieve to please her.
"My high-school football coach, Mr. William Tollard, was very tough and ready to take on all comers. He had a great deal of character, and made sure we kept our grades up. He mandated that we be gentlemen. We were not permitted to use any profanity and we were instructed to treat ladies with respect -- even tip our hats."
Floretta D. McKenzie, superintendent, D.C. Public Schools:
"Dr. Gertrude Williams was my geography professor at D.C. Teacher's College. She was a very quiet, unassuming person who knew geography almost as if she breathed it.
"Her manner was soft-spoken, yet exacting. Students did what she wanted just because she knew her subject so well, and we knew she wouldn't accept less than our best.
"By contrast, Mary Bunch, my English teacher at Rochelle High School in Lakeland, Fla., was more flamboyant. She had a master's degree from Columbia and added a little touch of class and excellence to that little southern town."
John Kenneth Galbraith, economist, professor emeritus, Harvard University:
"Two teachers stand out in my mind. One was O. J. Stevenson, a professor of English at the Ontario Agricultural College, who broke me of years of accumulated ignorance of the subject.
"He would not tolerate anything that remotely approached bad grammar, including split infinitives, and had the diligence and patience to go over every single sentence with a blue pencil.
"The other was E. T. Grether, professor of economics at the University of California. He drilled me at length and in detail in classical economics and taught me that before you could discover what was right, you had to find out what was wrong."
Mark Russell, comedian:
"One of my more memorable teachers taught Latin and coached basketball at Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York. His name was Cornelius MacGillicuddy, and we called him Connie Mack.
"It was a very strict parochial school, and I had a very strict education with the nuns and the priests. I was 18 years old before I learned that Protestants and Jews also played basketball."